Flatlanders climb NC mountains

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 3, 2006

I any man would shudder at the thought of being stuck in a car with their wife during an 877-mile trip.

Actually, I found it quite enjoyable…that is when Deborah wasn’t offering driving advice.

We’re back, all in one piece, after last week’s vacation. It was a unique vacation in lieu of the fact that we didn’t come to a final conclusion on our destination until Sunday (July 23) night. We agreed that the weather would hopefully be a bit cooler in the mountains of North Carolina.

So, we struck out on a westward path…following a mechanical check-up of the Mercury on Monday morning at Quick Lube (Central Ford).

By 1:30 that afternoon, the Merc n with me behind the wheel n was headed for the mountains. After about five hours of battling traffic, especially that found in the Raleigh-Durham area, we pulled into a Holiday Inn Express in Hickory.

One note about Hickory….it’s a furniture town. My wife loves furniture. There are about one zillion furniture stores in Hickory. As a matter of fact, the Hickory Furniture Mart (all three stories of it) was located right next door to our motel. Much to my surprise, we didn’t visit a single store.

Tuesday morning, I pointed the Merc northward on US 321. There were some good size hills along the route, but the real climb began just about the time the four-lane road turned into two narrow strips of bumpy asphalt.

With a deep valley on the left and a wall of sheer rock on the right, we made our ascent into the Blue Ridge Mountains of Caldwell County. Twisting and turning, zigging and zagging, we rolled into Blowing Rock shortly past 10 a.m.

After a brief stop at a convenience store to settle my spinning head, we drove a short distance and entered the Blue Ridge Parkway. The plan was to drive south, 82 miles to Asheville, and take in all the sights of the North Carolina mountains.

In a word, the view was spectacular. Deborah and I hinted at a plan to go back in the fall when the leaves change. I bet that’s a sight to behold!

Anyway, back to the trip.

We spent 28 bucks to visit Grandfather’s Mountain. We stopped at a viewing point just past the entrance and the clouds were clinging to the tip of the mountain. As we climbed (and I mean a rugged climb at an extremely steep grade), the sun began to burn away the clouds. By the time we reached the top (after another brief break to settle by spinning head), the temperature was in the upper 50’s with a fairly stiff breeze. It was delightful.

I was the only one in my family to brave walking across the Mile High Swinging Bridge. It wasn’t so bad, but I didn’t dare to inch any further past the bridge. There, the thought of unsure footing on a rock climb to a nearby bluff coupled with the stiff breeze made me think of how safe the steps felt under my feet at that precise moment.

After a brief trip through the gift shop, we begin our slow (and you better take it slow) descent down the mountain. We stopped long enough to snap a few photos of the famous Split Rock, one that the sign said was over a billion years old.

Back on the parkway, we darted in and out of scenic overlooks.

The next long stop came at Linville Falls. The sign at the welcome center said the shortest walk to the falls was three-tenth’s of a mile. However, to a pair of out-of-shape flatlanders, it felt more like three miles. Puffing and panting, we arrived at the falls, which were beautiful. The trip back to the parking lot was better, mostly because it was downhill.

After lunch, we were back on the parkway. One minute you’re at 2,500 feet….the next your ears are popping as you ascend to over 6,000 feet. The road winds through the peaks and valleys. Some of the turns were so sharp that I swore I saw the license plate of my car in front of me. I guess they don’t call ‘em spiral curves for nothing.

We past by the entrance of Mt. Mitchell State Park. If you didn’t know, Mt. Mitchell (6,684 feet) is the highest point in the United States east of the Mississippi River. With the thought of scaling Grandfather’s Mountain still fresh on our minds, we passed on the idea of visiting the top of Mt. Mitchell.

From there it was a series of more peaks and valleys. The road traveled through several tunnels cut through the sheer rock. We saw Black Mountain and Craggy Dome and passed over one stretch of mountain road that must be a real bad spot because it closes during the winter months.

We made it to Asheville around 6 p.m. Deborah called her sister, who is attending a Driver’s Education school in Asheville, and we spent the night at the same motel.

On Wednesday, we pointed the Merc towards Hertford County, descending the mountain and placing the Blue Ridge in our rear view mirror.

It was a whirlwind vacation, but it was good to get out of town for a while and enjoy a portion of what the great state of North Carolina has to offer.